Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pardon Me While I Get My Geek On

As any good Trek fan knows, there is a certain protocol in dealing with the Borg.

When the first couple of drones show up, you just nail 'em with your phasers. No problem. They'll go down like a sack of cybernetic wheat. You go on with your day, aligning phase couplings and whatnot.

But then the third or fourth 'assimilatedly disadvantaged' arrives on the scene, and you discover that your phaser blasts no longer do the trick. The Borg have sprouted personal energy shields, handy little devices that throw up windows of translucent, tessellated barriers that are genuinely phaser proof. They kinda look like your grandma's old shower door. Except, y'know, impervious to bursts of highly focused photonic energy.

Now you might get a little panicky, but all is not yet lost. You simply change phaser frequencies, maybe moving from your previous shrieky 90 million khz down to a nice robust Old Man Riveresque 40 million. And that will do the trick. For a short while. Maybe one or two more drones, which in Borg terms, is really a drop in the bucket. I mean, these guys have a better recruitment program than DeVry.

So, now you're down to some tricky slight-of-hand. You need to set your phasers to a constantly rotating, randomly selected frequency. This has the dual effect of popping through a few additional Borg shields while also making your phaser beam a bit more festive, which is definitely something to keep in mind during this holiday season. But alas, no matter how many glad tidings your phaser beam inspires, there will come a point at which all your tricks simply stop working. The Borg shields will repel anything you throw at them, and your phasers will be about as effective as a laser-pointer.

It is then that you will lower your weapons in creeping dismay, and somebody, usually Worf (though Data adds an ironic sense of emotionless detachment to the phrase) will intone, darkly:

"They have adapted."

Which basically means, Nice knowing you, redshirts, 'cuz we are fresh outta options.

At this point, Worf will usually run forward with a giant knife and just start can-opening the cybernetic freakshows, as heavy bladed weapons are apparently the trump card in this particular game of rock-paper-scissors. And if that's the case, then sign me up for bat'leth lessons, because you see…

My son has adapted.

At first it was easy to get this kid to fall asleep. A little rocking, a little white noise. But one by one, my little tricks stopped working. I would rock, the white noise would wash away the memory of his hectic day sucking boob and filling diapers, but he would just stare back up at me, with his big wide eyes. Lifeless eyes, like a doll's eyes.

Okay, actually, they're incredibly cute little eyes, not so much problematic because of their resemblance to a shark's as their tendency to be wide, wide open when it is clearly time for Baby to Sleep.

So I tried rocking him differently. Every way I could think of. Seriously, I am to baby rocking techniques what Derek Zoolander is to pouty looks. I've got The Jostle, The Swing, The Sway, The Dipsy-Doo, The Ketchup Bottle, The Bounce, The Lap Leaner, and of course, the ultra-difficult Rocking-Sway Combo Deluxe. We now generally have three different white noise generators in the room at any given time, only one of which ever has the magic key to dream land. They helped. For a while.

We then brought out the big guns. After quadruple-checking with every parent book and our own highly regarded pediatrician, we introduced the Binky. Oh the Binky. Cruel, clever, treacherous Binky. How quickly you soothe our Boy to sleep. But there is a price, cackled the little gnome. Oh yes, there is a price. For as soon as your child falls asleep, he will drop the Binky, and then, in his half-sleeping state, he will attempt to find the thing. With his face. Needless to say, this is an exercise in frustration. And waking up.

We tried the chair swing. This worked exactly once. Man, did he love that chair swing the first time we tried it. And man oh man, has he hated the living guts of out the thing every time since.

And on. And on.

It's as if we're not so much finding new ways to put him to sleep as we are inoculating him against them.

It has been an interesting year, kids.

Which is not a good sign, as it has actually only been four weeks.

Now if you'll pardon me, my son has adapted.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate

I cannot claim that we were not warned. We were warned. Oh the warnings.

Between the Wife and I, we have had new parents lined up around the proverbial block, veritably pushing and shoving each other for the chance to tell us how hard it was going to be. I firmly believe that as much as people enjoy being comfortable, they freaking love being miserable, as long as they know someone else will be next. Eyes positively twinkle. Grins tremble with mischief. For further reading, please see Every Japanese Gameshow Ever Made.

So we knew it was going to be hard. We got that. But really, there’s a visceral quality to the hard-ness that you just don’t hear about. Well, that’s not true. You hear about it. But hearing about it isn’t really useful. Hearing about how hard Mike Tyson hits is not the same as actually being punched in the gut by that same fine gentleman.

The best way I can think to describe what it’s like is the ditch-digging scene from Cool Hand Luke.

“Boy, Mr. Baby wants him some clean diapers and he wants them right now.”
“Diapering up, Boss.”
“Now boy, what’d you go and put them nice clean diapers on Mr. Baby for? Can’t you see he done already soiled them? Now maybe you should go on and do that again.”
“Yes sir, Boss.”
“Boy! What do you think you’re doing putting diapers on Mr. Baby when he clearly needs to feed again and then be burped and rocked while he screams bloody murder right in your face? You get on that, boy!”
“Getting’ right on it, Boss.”
“Boy! Did someone come by here and tell you to stop getting Mr. Baby’s diaper changed? Now get that done afore I whoop some sense into you.”

So, it’s like that, on an infinite loop.

And it’s hard enough right there, but having the Wife roll through this same torture right next to me is simply heartbreaking.

First of all, watching her give birth to our son redefines the concept of a humbling moment. I don’t care if you’re a Navy SEAL or Frank Lloyd Wright or Thomas Jefferson or Gandhi. In a contest of accomplishments against a woman who has given birth, you lose. I’m still not sure I believe all the things I saw during that process. It was simultaneously the most miraculous and most brutal thing I’ve ever witnessed. I figure, given the events of the Boy’s entry into this world, she’s done enough for… oh, say, ever.

But the Boy does not agree.

There are certain boob-related functions for which the Wife is ever-so-slightly better equipped than I, and her services are in high demand among the sub-one-week-old demographic at our particular address. Aside from that, she feels an almost irresistible need to stay by his side at all times, which must be programmed in at the genetic level. You never know when those saber-tooth tigers are going to strike. I wish I could poke fun at this, but I’d by lying if I claimed to check his breathing less than three-thousand times a minute when he naps. He’s just so little.

They say sleep deprivation is the foundation of any really effective torture regimen, and I say Amen. There have been times over the past few days that I would have gladly confessed to orchestrating 9/11 for a half hour of solid sleep. Given the Wife’s already spent body, and our cumulative lack of shuteye, you might think we’d be a mess.

We’ve often joked that we would never go on the Amazing Race, as much as we love the show, because after a few days of non-stop stress and extra-strength jetlag, we’d be at each other’s throats.

I can no longer stand by that opinion.

Because, as a team, we’ve never been better. We teeter and lurch past each other like two Drunken Masters, swapping diapers and wipes and bottles and our tiny little sensei himself. When I can’t get the swaddle, the Wife is there. When the Boy refuses to be soothed by the very woman who squeezed him out of her lady-business just a few short days ago, I scoop and I shush and he’s suddenly all eyes and no mouth, and There Is Peace. Briefly.

And these skills are not static, I am not Shush-Man to my wife’s Swaddle Girl. It’s more that whatever ball I seem to drop, the Wife snatches up and tosses back into the air, and vice-versa. It’s a dynamic little improv act we’ve established, and if 4am manages to arrive and our audience is snoozing away in the back row, there are high-fives all around.

It is hard. But...

It is hard and it is the best thing I’ve ever lived through. Everyone tells you this, too. I don’t have any movie references for this one. All I can say is, as hard as it’s been, I’ve never been happier about anything in my life.

There are moments, and they’re rapidly growing in both frequency and amplitude as we work the kinks out of our act, that make all trauma seem like a bargain.

In those rare moments of planetary alignment, when milk and diaper and burps and swaddling are all checked off the list, the Boy assumes an expression that the experts call Calm Alert, but which I can only describe as a state of perpetual, slightly cynical disbelief. He sits in my tiny little hands, and he sizes up his world. His lip curls up a little and he squints at everything with the same confused expression. I would not be surprised if his first words were: “Are you kidding me?”

But the best moments, the absolute best moments, are when I’m done burping him. He’s a great burper, by the way, an epic burper. You may have thought you heard thunder in the past week, but it was just my Boy venting a little milk vapor.

At any rate, when I’m done burping him on my shoulder, he wriggles and grunts his little way up a little further, and he doesn’t stop until his tiny face is nestled up in the crook of my big dumb neck. And then he just kinda… melts.

And every time he does this, it’s the best moment of my entire life. Hands down. I glow from within like some sort of human/lava lamp hybrid

They told me it would be hard. But now… now I know why.

You don’t just get the best moments in your life. You have to earn them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bill Hearne

We lost one of the good guys a few days ago. His name was Bill Hearne.

Bill was a good friend of my sister Debbie’s, and I first met him years ago, back when I was living in Rochester. He and several of his running friends were going out to the Adirondacks to camp, hike, maybe do a little rock climbing, and just generally relax in the woods and enjoy each other’s company. My sister was part of this yearly tradition, and she invited me to come.

So I went. And that’s when I met Bill, and learned his unique definition of the term hiking.

See, for many people, hiking means going for a nice walk in the woods, maybe zipping up a little ridge, taking some pictures, going back to the tent and roasting marshmallows. That’s definitely what it meant to me, at the time.

For Bill, hiking meant waking up at some ridiculous hour of the morning – one that my mind has since blocked out – and heading out in a rainstorm intense enough to drown a carp. As we headed down the muddy trailhead, we passed another hiking couple, already in full retreat. As they passed us, the husband announced: “It has been decided. We are going shopping.”

But Bill led his group onward, and we jogged straight up a 4000-foot mountain (they don’t seem to understand the concept of the switchback in the Adirondacks, so I mean straight up), then down the other side, then up another one, then back again, down and up and down, the whole way back. Jogging. It was 14 miles. I counted.

That hike is one of my favorite memories, and the last thing I remember from that day is passing out in my tent as Bill and the rest of the Old School stayed up and partied.

The next morning, again godawfulearly, Bill invited me to join him for an actual jog. I politely declined. Mostly because I still could not feel my legs.

To say that Bill was an athlete is an understatement. Bill was the athlete. Back on that trip, when I was 19 and full of amazement at my own athletic skillz, Bill was around fifty, and I remember seeing him for the first time. He just looked like a normal guy. A little paunch around the belly, even. I did not yet realize that he was, in fact, the Terminator.

But there are lots of great athletes out there. The thing that was so great about Bill was how completely humble he was about it. Living in San Francisco, you get the idea that athletic ability gives you some sort of license to carry a chip on your shoulder and indulge in endless self-appreciation. If they put it to a vote, I’m willing to bet a good percentage of the population here would opt to have the city covered in mirrored surfaces.

Bill was not like that. For Bill, running, climbing, teaching spin classes, and just basically being a perpetual motion machine was fun. And it was the kind of fun he loved to include other people in. It was a welcoming, patient, laughing, goofy, grinning, all-inclusive fun. He was just one of those guys who met you and made you feel like an old friend in the same moment. There aren’t enough people like that around anymore. Especially now.

I was never very close with Bill, but I got an email from him a few years ago. I had just climbed Mt. Rainier, and he had heard about it through Debbie. So he sent me an email, telling me he was training for a climb on Denali, and wanting to know if I was interested in joining up.

I have to admit, I had a hard time writing a response that did not include the phrase “completely nuts” in it. Not for Bill’s sake – the guy was a machine, and I had no doubt that he’d make his way up Denali. But I had barely finished my Rainier climb, and I could not imagine the discipline I’d need for Denali. So I wrote back, saying thanks, but no thanks, and keep in touch, and good luck.

After years of preparation, Bill made it to Denali, where he died suddenly in the middle of his climb, carrying supplies from one camp to another. They say he went quickly, and without suffering. They say he died doing what he loved, and in one of the most beautiful spots on Earth. I’m glad for all those things.

But most of all, even though I didn’t know Bill as well as some of his many friends, all I can say is that Bill is one of the best people you could ever hope to meet, and if you never got the chance to go on a hike with him, then you really, really missed out.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Bold New Metaphor

This morning, I had a revelation. I would go into greater detail about how this revelation came to me, but I imagine you’ll be able to figure it out on your own by the end of this post.

I’ve read a lot of writing books. There are times, in fact, when I suspect that I have read all of the writing books. The thing I’ve noticed, over and over again, is how each book comes up with its own metaphor for the process of writing.

Writing is a battle, says one book, a battle against the invisible forces of resistance that imperil the efforts of all would-be artists. Or maybe writing is a journey. Or writing is like assembling a skeleton. Stephen King says writing is like an excavation, a slow process of discovery in which the writer unearths a story without any idea of the final shape or form until the entire damn mammoth is free of the ground. I particularly like that metaphor, because as any paleontologist can tell you, they usually only ever find half of the skeleton.

I can relate.

But this morning, I discovered my own metaphor, and I’m quite enamored of it. Writing, my friends, is like taking a shit.

Bear with me.

It’s time. Whether you’ve been putting it off all day, or you’ve jumped eagerly into the gap, it doesn't matter. When it’s time, it’s time.

You sit. Perhaps you’re filled with dread, or maybe a sense of boundless optimism. But whatever preconceived notions you had about how this was supposed to go, reality soon knocks those ideas aside. You never know what you’re going to get until you get it.

Especially on Those Days. You know Those Days.

On Those Days you huddle there, prepared to give from the deepest part of yourself. But as long as you sit, and as hard as you try, nothing’s coming. You’re blocked. You look down at what you’ve produced, a tiny dark splotch on a field of white, and you think: That can’t be it! I know I’ve got more in me than that!

So you redouble your efforts. You struggle and you strain, you curse and make vows and sometimes you even bargain with God a little, if that’s your cup of tea. And slowly, with great effort and much gnashing of teeth, you produce. And when you’re done, and you survey the results, you’re left with a single, inescapable fact: Jesus Christ, it stinks. It’s a horrible, ghastly mess, and you wouldn’t show it to anyone, not even if they begged you. And you hit the switch and away it goes, hopefully never to be seen again. Though, these things do have a way to popping back up to the surface.

Then there are those Other Days. Far more rare, but they make it all seem worthwhile.

You sit down, and everything inside you is practically bursting to get out. You don’t even have to try, it just flows out of you, like magic. It feels natural, instinctual, and when you look over what you’ve accomplished, a slow, simple warmth builds in your chest. You’re proud. Proud of yourself. And other people may think it stinks, but not you. You think it’s wonderful. You finish up and go on about the rest of your day, grateful and happy, and even if you accomplish nothing else before bedtime, it doesn’t really matter. You bounce through the world, feeling ten pounds lighter.

And both activities demand a unique schedule of everyone. Some people can spend all day working something out. Others can only squeeze in fifteen minutes, here and there. Still others find that skipping a day between sessions is a healthy approach. Personally, I find that the best time is early in the morning, every single day, and that a good cup of coffee is universally helpful.

Of course, like all metaphors, this one starts to fall apart under too much examination. For instance, I’ve never actually defecated into an envelope and sent it to a publishing house, though I am sure there are a few editors who would argue the contrary. Also, I had a hard time coming up with a good writerly equivalent to washing my hands. Although literally washing one's hands after writing is probably not a bad idea.

Because, really, who knows what kind of germs are living on your keyboard. It’s disgusting, if you think about it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Return to Form

Okay, so I’ll be the first to admit that this blog thing has maybe not been quite the startling success I had both anticipated and intended. This might be, in some tangential way, connected to the fact that I have not made a blog entry in something approaching seven months.

I thought it would write itself, really. And I Am Very Disappointed In It for not doing so.

Regardless, I suppose I am somewhat to blame for this, I am partly culpable for my blog’s seeming lack of motivation. Maybe I didn’t give it enough praise as a young blogling. It’s difficult, you see. Work gets in the way. Work and the ugly business of getting older. Thoreau said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation, but he was only half-right, given that he failed to predict the Camaro.

Oh sure, at first, everything was great. Those early years were a blur of diaper changings and first steps, which neatly segued (montage-like, with music and cuts betwixt time-faded film clips) into halcyon days of running behind little Bloggy’s bike, letting go and watching it crash headfirst into a tree, possibly because I had been kind of pointing the bike in that direction, treeward, but that was mostly because I was drunk, drunk and filled with a nameless rage, which I have now given a name, which is Walter, Walter the Rage.

Things changed after that. Bloggy was a little less willing to get on a bike after that, or a horse, or especially that rocket sled I built out of stolen NASA booster rockets and Mentos, even though I painted a very friendly-looking puppy on the side, although I can’t actually paint, and was not aware at the time of the proper number of eyes for a puppy, one-hundred being A Bit Much.

Time marched on, and a distance grew between us. And when I got off the phone, it occurred to me, my Blog, was just like me, yeah. My Blog was Just. Like. Me.

Or it would be, if I was a bunch of text on a screen, stored in the vastness of the Internet and regurgitated for you at your leisure. And for all you know, I am exactly that. You have no proof of otherwise. Unless you actually know me. In which case, sorry I don’t call more often.

Of course, none of this is actually my fault, as I am an American, and my citizenship includes an inalienable right to deny responsibility. Because, I am, you see, an alcoholic.

Just kidding. I’m not an alcoholic. I have no problem with booze. In fact, I love booze! I could drink all day. You should see me at work. I can barely throw up on myself without having a drink first.

No, no, friends and countrymen, I am addicted to a much more pernicious substance, more insidious in its consequences, and far more ninja-like in its method, what with the sneaking undetected into dojos and castles and 80s TV shows. That substance is Laziness.

Laziness is a problem that afflicts millions of Americans. Its symptoms may include being lazy, some other stuff, and... I don’t know, something else. I mean, I could look it up, but Christ! The Internet is way over there.

Anyway, that’s my excuse, and I’m going to see someone about it, not a life coach or therapist or anything silly like that. I’m going to call my 7th grade gym teacher, Mr. Ryder. That guy knew how to get you to do a push-up. I figure he’s got about twenty years of calisthenics saved up for me.

That’ll learn me. I’ll be back in blogging shape in no time. It’ll be like Rocky, only, instead of biffing hangers of meat, I’ll be not doing anything of the sort.

In case you can’t tell, I don’t really know how to end this one.